As reaction settles down to news that Audi has scooped up Italian bikemaker Ducati right from under the nose of Mercedes-Benz for a cool billion, we can now get back to the four-wheeled performance Audi does best. And there are few better ways I can think of doing that than throwing body and mind into a fully optioned new Audi S7 and hitting the sunny German countryside.
At least for this scribe-driver, Audi does a much finer job on its S models than it attempts to do on the RS versions. Not that the RS lineup is a bad thing, but its various members often strike me as just souped-up S models – not the true RennSport icons they ought to be. I want mayhem and magic in an RS and never really get it. What I probably really want is rear-wheel drive and about 400 fewer pounds to lug around, but knowing Audi's modern day raison d'être, that'll never be allowed to happen.
But the S cars are genuinely satisfying Sport-driving professionals that happily double as very stylish everyday drivers. The current civilian Audi that expresses best the stylish part of the equation is the sleek A7. It's a funny car in that the initial reaction to the swoopy A7 was a bit hesitant from some quarters. But the enthusiasm has grown over time and now the sportback-style car is a certifiable hit in the United States and elsewhere.
Those of us liking the car already have been eagerly awaiting the 414-horsepower S7 – called the S7 Sportback in all other markets. Pricing for the U.S. has not been announced yet prior to the first deliveries in late October, but some basic calculations lead us to believe the price for a base S7 Premium Plus trim will come in somewhere a bit north of $70,000. Warning: Audis do get expensive.
Just looking at this S7 in profile in so-called metallic Rocky Mountain Brown is a bit of an aesthetic event. At its lowest point while at rest or at speeds over 75 miles per hour on an Autobahn, the S7 sits 1.2 inches lower on its air suspension perches than a bog-standard A7. For Europe, the base wheel is a 19-inch design and there was talk of making the standard U.S. wheel a 20-inch set, such as that on the test car for this story. [CONFIRMED: U.S. gets 19s standard.] Optional wheels can hit 21 inches. I was already mumbling to myself: "Why exactly does one need a Bentley Continental GT with essentially this same powertrain at over twice the price?" The S7 is gorgeous.
But this is old news. Does the A7 persona lend itself well to being an aggressor car of prey? The silly but effective red ring around the engine start-stop button at the console made me feel as though the S7 was going to live up to the hype I'd heaped on it. It's okay to be gullible sometimes... right?
Fortunately, this svelte cruiser from Neckarsulm fulfills the promise of that little red ring. The 414 horses maxing between 5,500 rpm and the 6,400 rpm redline are accompanied by a good kick of 406 pound feet of bi-turbo torque between 1,450 and 5,250 rpm. This 4.0-liter TFSI version of Audi's EA824 V8 has been modified with Cylinder on Demand technology (also seen in the previously tested S8, new S6, and Bentley Continental GT and GTC V8), and it officially totes the 4,450-pound S7 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds. Top speed is held to the usual 155 mph.
Succinctly put as possible, the S7 and I had a good ol' time for our three-hour blind date. The 20-inch Dunlop SPSport Maxx GT treads (265/35 R20 99Y) wrapped around 20-inch Star design wheels made a big difference in road feel through the dynamic transitions during the spirited drive. Between the adaptive air suspension (tweaked via the Audi Drive Select interface on the MMI screen), optional ceramic brake discs, optional Dynamic Steering, and (yep) Euro-optional Sport Quattro with locking rear differential and torque vectoring, the drive system felt in sync under all conditions and levels of stress. It sure as heck had better do so, what with a presumed $90,000+ price tag at this equipment level.
Then there is that lower height versus any A7 or A6/S6 to consider, plus the wide tracks (64.6 inches front, 64.3 in. rear). When I drove another S7 without the much-improved optional steering or sport differential and torque vectoring, the dynamics in the hotter sections of road were clearly less willing, forcing me to back off a bit more than I would have liked at times. The steering wheel as dressed for the S7 is a wonderful gripper at just the right diameter, a few inches narrower than my shoulders.
I do wish the S7 could come with a six-speed manual if some crazy troglodyte like me requested it; the seven-speed S-tronic dual clutch with this bi-turbo's lower revs can be frustrating at times. Even with the ADS interface all set to full-on Dynamic and me behind the wheel shifting manually with paddles, the transmission upshifts in certain steamier moments... thereby taking the steam out. Then it would not let me downshift during these same points until revs dropped down nice and safe, further taking the steam out of an otherwise terrific drive.
Of all the optional equipment we have come to expect from the marketing-savvy Germans, the fact that at this level of power and mass and cost I have to opt for the sport differential with torque vectoring is a bit of a $1,100 slap in the face. The S7 should really come with this included – preferably with no further impact on the sticker price. [APPARENT UPDATE: Sources are saying that this is optional in Europe but standard for the North American S7. Good news.]
A nicely dynamic yet comfort-focused feature was the multi-adjustable and monogrammed S sport seating with quilted stitching. They also bump you from already good Nappa leather up to sumptuous Valcona leather – and all for just about $2,500 for the chairs alone. The two passengers in back also get the seat treatment when you specify an optional interior package. Side bolster support for these sitters remains right where it should be for this nature of car.
As to the telltale large liftgate of the S7, it is a paragon of virtue whenever it comes to loading up with gear. Cargo volume ranges from 18.9 cubic feet up to a big 49.1 cubes and accessibility is easy. At the same time, standard Audi Noise Control operates through the sound system, and the active engine mounts introduced with the new S8 work together to compensate for any minor roughness caused when the Cylinder On Demand technology transitions in and out of V4 mode.
Under hard throttle and in full V8 mode, though, the S7 hauls. There's also a good voice that penetrates the cabin thanks to a sound amplifier in the front bulkhead. The amplifier doesn't fake the soundtrack – it uses the actual wavelengths of the engine itself and just gives them their proper voice. It sounds excellent, for sure, and the two twin exhaust pipes out back with their own noise enhancement by Faurecia manage a heady song as well. Nonetheless, in the European cycle, Audi anticipates an average of 24.5 miles per U.S. gallon from the S7. The readout suggested around 18 mpg during my drive, which really is pretty good considering my eager right foot.
Despite some stories to the contrary, don't count on an RS version of the A7, however – officials have pretty much confirmed that one isn't in the cards despite some discussions having happened. This is just as well from my point of view; until Audi gets their RS thinking right, the S models – including now this properly engaging S7 – are the ones to get if performance with poise is your game.